Last month 360Monster was invited as part of the Microsoft Xbox Community Network (XCN) to attend this years GC2006. As you well know we let our Barrie loose on the event and we have had a number of reports from the show floors. Last week we were handed a write up of one of these events at the show, this time it was a Q&A session with Chris Kimmel, Product Manager at Microsoft Game Studios. Chris was here to here to fill us in with details on the upcoming RARE title – Viva Pinata.
What follows an in-depth Q&A exclusive to XCN members with Chris, read on…
There was a little problem with Viva Pinata out on the showfloor at the Leipzig GC 2006. What went wrong there?
The set up wasn’t optimal so we had to quickly change things. The problem was that the console on the showfloor were retail consoles rather than debug units, and retail consoles block out any interaction between the user and the hard drive. We had just added a new autosave feature and that was causing us issues, but we got it cleared up and we had great feedback on Viva Pinata from the show attendees.
Viva Pinata sounds like quite a complicated idea. Where do you start?
Literally, in the dirt. You start with a tiny garden that’s really just a patch of dirt. It used to be this wonderful, famous place, but its fallen into disrepair and all that remains is debris, weeds and – you guessed it – dirt. It’s your job to return this garden to its former glory. You start off with a small area that you can influence bounded by white lines, and as you build your garden those lines push further and further out until you’ve got a sprawling piñata paradise. But yeah, it can be quite intimidating to be given this patch of dirt and told to make it great again, and that’s why we have a host of characters who are there to help you out.
So what do these guys do for you?
They’re there to offer advice, reward your efforts, and help you out with specific jobs in the game. Leafos, for instance, is the first character you meet and the first thing she does is give you a Pinata Encyclopaedia which collects information about the Pinatas you own and also gives you hints about how to attract new Pinatas. It also lists all the Pinatas you have in your garden and lists their value, so as the game progresses this is a really valuable tool. As for other characters, some build structures for you, heal sick Pinatas, and so on.
Are you keen to keep the game as accessible as possible to appeal to a wider audience?
We have three main audiences for this game: The kid gamer, the casual gamer and the female gamer. Having said that, our marketing push is primarily to the kid gamer. That’s why voiceover is very important for us because some of your younger target audience won’t be able to read very well and we want to make the game as simple and as accessible as possible for them. We’ll be localising all the text and voiceover into more than ten languages including European languages, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.
Will experienced gamers not enjoy Viva Pinata then?
This is very important. You’ll hear a lot of talk about us marketing the game at young players, casual players and female players. But this game is actually aimed at everyone. It’s extremely scaleable so that whether you’ve never picked up a joypad or you’re a hardcore gamer you’ll be able to enjoy it. It’s as complicated as you want it to be. There’s a lot of people out there who are still kids at heart, who still remember playing Nintendo games and Rare games when they were younger, and we’re excited about appealing to these people.
Alright, so what’s the first thing we need to do in our garden?
Well, the first tool you get in Viva Pinata is your shovel. The first shovel you get is this old beat-up thing, but it’s still the most important tool you’ll have throughout the game. And as you progress, your shovel will be upgraded. So you get the shovel and start turning over the hard dirt to create nice loose soil, dig out the weeds, and smash up any debris that might be lying around.
So we’re digging the ground up… When do the Pinatas come in?
Pinatas need special conditions to enter your garden, and luckily the first Pinata you’ll attract looks for big patches of nice new soil – it’s the Whirlm! All the Pinatas are named after types of candy, so you’ve got the Whirlm which is a worm like a strawberry whirl, the Bunnycomb which is a rabbit like honeycomb, a bee is a Buzzlegum, a horse is a Horsetachio and so on. There are four stages to attracting a Pinata. The first is to attract them to the world. The second is to get them to actually enter the borders of your garden by making the conditions as good as possible for them. The third is to get them to become a resident, and this is where things get really interesting. To begin with all wild Pinatas are black and white, but when they become a resident they change into bright colours, and once they’re a resident you can name them, select them and tell them where to go. The final stage is to make the Pinatas fall in love so they reproduce.
You breed Pinatas?
Exactly. Only two wild Pinatas will enter your garden. If you want more you need to make them do something we like to call ‘Pinata Romancing’. For this to happen the Pinatas need a nice place to cosy up, so Leafos will give you a Whirlm house to get started. Once you’ve found a spot for that the builder will turn up and erect the house. Once you’ve got that you can introduce your Pinatas to each other. All Pinatas are asexual so you don’t have to worry about matching up boys and girls. Next step is to make them fall in love, and to do that you’ve got to complete a little mini-game. This is different for every Pinata and they’ll get harder as the game goes on. With the Whirlms I just need to guide one to the other through a little love maze. Assuming that goes well, then it’s time for the Romance Dance to start! Your Pinatas will head inside the house and you get to go with them! Every species of Pinata has a unique music and dance style, so the Whirlms are pretty funky, the bears are into surf rhythms, and the dogs do a Scottish-style dance.
Then we get a Pinata baby?
Right. Pinatas aren’t born live though, they appear in an egg delivered by Storkos. The egg takes a while to hatch but in this time you can deliver it to your friend over Xbox Live or wait and add the Pinata to your garden. If you let the Whirlm baby hatch then suddenly the Sparrowmint is interested in becoming a resident…
You’ve told us we can give our Pinatas names. How else can we customise them?
You can also tag your Pinatas with information like their name and where they came from. Once of the coolest things about the game is that you’ll be able to trade your Pinatas with your friends and keep track of where your Pinata ends up as it travels through the Viva Pinata universe, passing from player to player. You can customise their look with a huge range of accessories like backpacks and glasses!
Can you alter the colours of the Pinatas?
No. Colours are very important for Pinatas as they mark out the progression between certain levels of Pinata. For example, the pony has a very distinct colour scheme from the horse, and we want to make sure those colour schemes stay the same.
Alright, so we’ve got our first Whirlm baby. How do we attract more Pinatas?
Once you’ve got a Whirlm baby the Sparrowmint will turn up. You see, not all Pinatas are attracted just by your garden. Some are attracted by other Pinatas and you’ll have to work out how to attract them both to your garden so you can attract yet more Pinatas. For instance, the snake will come to your garden if you have plenty of lush grass, but he won’t become a resident until he can eat a mouse. So you need to work out how to attract a mouse Pinata, make him a resident, and keep him from getting too scared and running away so that the snake can eat him! It’s all about balancing the ecosystem and keeping all your Pinatas as happy as they can be to progress.
Is there an in-game currency?
Yes. As you break debris in the garden you’ll collect chocolate coins. Once the Village Store opens up I’ll be able to spend the coins on seeds, tools, and even hire workers to help out in the garden. You can also make money by trading you Pinatas. Every Pinata in your garden has a value assigned to it, so you can build up quite a profitable business by breeding Pinatas and trading them.
Does the trading system work on Xbox Live?
You can send you friends objects and Pinatas from your garden over Xbox Live. A big crate shows up and you pack it with what you want to send and your friend receives it in the crate. This is going to be really cool because it means if you’re stuck and can’t attract a certain type of Pinata to your garden you can ask your friend to send some over. You can also cause mischief by putting things in the crates that your friend might not appreciate, like Sour Pinatas…
Sour Pinatas? Are they bad?
Sour Pinatas are evil Pinatas. They’re bright red so you can tell them apart from the good Pinatas. They’re very destructive. They’ll break down fences and structures in your garden, cause fights between your resident Pinatas, make your residents ill, and generally make your life tough.
What other plans do you have for Xbox Live play?
We’re only talking about the trading system at the moment, but we do have big plans. Actually, one other thing I can tell you about is the Xbox Live challenges that will pop up from time to time. You’ll see these at the bottom of the screen. For instance, it might say “Pinata Factory needs three Horsetachios for birthday parties, can you supply them?” If you say yes you’ll get a time limit to produce the Pinatas required and you’ll be ranked on Xbox Live for your time and score. If you’re after competitive play that’ll be great for you.
Will we be able to visit our friend’s garden over Xbox Live?
That’s something we’re looking at.
You usually see Pinatas getting hit with a baseball bat. Can you do this in the game?
We don’t have a baseball bat but you can bust open your Pinatas. However, this is a positive game and there are consequences for breaking Pinatas.
Have you kept the control system simple so as not to alienate younger or more casual gamers?
Absolutely. It’s very simple and based on only a few key controls and button presses, and we always have instructions on the screen. That said, if you’re a more experienced gamer used to life simulations and micro-management, then there’s lots of depth for you. If you’re not used to that you can hire workers to help with all the little things you need to keep an eye on in your garden so you can concentrate on having fun.
How many different varieties of plants and trees are there to put in your garden?
There’s something in the region of 50 different plants and trees to collect. You can buy them in the Village Store and they all have a use, although some are good for your garden and some are not so good. You’ll have to experiment and find out what you need to keep an eye on. Also, the seeds you buy will cause different Pinatas to be attracted to your garden. Carrots, for instance, attract rabbits (Bunnycombs) and turnips will attract mice (Mousemallows). It’s not as simple as just planting a seed and forgetting about it either. If you want the seed to grow you’ll have to water it!
Do you have plans for Marketplace?
We DEFINITELY have big plans for Marketplace. I can’t talk about what they are yet, but there’s going to be a lot of things available for download through Marketplace.
How does the TV show tie into the game?
In every episode of the TV show there’ll be two storylines, and both will contain gameplay hints. For instance, one episode might be about attracting a unicorn to a garden, and if you want to do that in your game you’ll need to set up the same circumstances.
How does the game end?
There’s no end to Viva Pinata. There are 60 different Pinatas to collect and that’s going to take a significant amount of playtime, especially when you start dealing with Sour Pinatas and the inter-relationships between different species of Pinata. For instance, ducks and geese don’t like each other, so you’ll have to keep them apart if you want a peaceful garden!
Many thanks for your time Chris!